Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Defining "Balance" and "Healthy" in Terms of Relationships














In general, a balanced and healthy relationship between two parties defines that which respects the abilities, limitations and needs of each party. Another very simple way of describing these relationships through an application of the “golden rule”: each party considers the needs, wants and feelings of the other party so that they act as much in the best interest of the other party as they do their own. Healthy and balanced relationships are not NOT “zero-sum” situations where if one party benefits, the other party suffers some type of loss. There are always times when one person will sacrifice on behalf of the needs, wants or feelings of the other party, deferring their own out of love and respect of the other, but this is episodic and it is reciprocal. Such a way of relating to the other party strengthens and builds trust and therefore the relationship, because needs, wants and feelings of each party are held in both mutual love and honor.


In order to achieve this, both parties realize and accept the limitations and abilities of one another, refraining from unrealistic demands or expectations. As an example, if one party were very short in stature and the other was tall, the taller person would not expect, ask or demand that the shorter person be capable of reaching on to a high shelf to hand something to him (assuming there is no step-ladder or other device to aid the short person, of course). Likewise, provided that the short person realizes that the ceilings in a basement do not allow for the tall person to stand fully upright without leaning over, they are unlikely to expect, ask or demand that the tall person perform many activities in that basement. Not only are they not capable of normal function in that environment (standing upright – something all human beings should be afforded), doing so causes them physical pain and harm that is very difficult to avoid. The short person then assumes responsibilities for the “basement duties” whenever possible out of respect of the needs, wants and feelings of the taller one. As a general rule, the tall person reciprocates, sharing in the responsibilities of the needs, wants and feelings of the short person by assuming the duties that come easier to a taller person (reaching for items on shelves).


Unique Consideration of the Parent-Child Relationship


Parenting adds additional considerations because of the inequitable abilities of children to meet their own needs as well as the duties of parenting to teach children nearly everything. In addition to providing for the obvious learning and care needs that a child cannot possibly provide for themselves, the parent bears the burden of teaching that child boundaries: where the child's own needs, wants and feelings begin and where they end in relationship to others. This is subtle but vitally important – an aspect of parenting that can be easily forgotten as the child grows older, taking more adult appearing behaviors and performance. (I often find this to be true when observing children who are far beyond the mean for their age group in terms of physical growth. My young cousin looked as if she was four years old when she was only three, and I often found myself “forgetting” that her abilities were still that of a three year old's.)


Because of these factors, all responsibility for the child falls to the parent. The relationship demands this because the child is helpless at birth and requires the parent's sacrificial provision for their needs. An infant provides the most obvious example of this, and the responsibilities are clear: the child depends completely on that parent. But as the child grows older and takes on more adult-like behaviors, the adult must never look to the child to meet their own adult needs within the parent-child relationship. Such a task is complex, because there is so much satisfaction and pleasure that parent's derive from their children. So there is an ever-changing demand placed upon the parent to wisely note that, though the child has developed certain abilities (listening, sharing work, encouragement, emotional support, etc.), the parent must always act in the best interest of the child within the parent-child relationship. Until the child grows into adulthood, the parent bears the heavier burden and must act in the child's best interest above their own. (This is completely apart from the idea that a parent cannot place demands upon children and does not presume that things like household chores or contributing to considerations of the family are improper expectations. This in no way should or does imply “child rights” or other such activism.)